A Look At Kyle Hendricks’ Struggles

For the past couple of seasons the Cubs have been able to throw Kyle Hendricks and usually have a good chance at a win.  After his 2016 Cy Young runner up season he has not been quite as dominant.  While he has continued to be the same type of finesse pitcher, he no longer is seeing the same results.  His ERA sits at a 3.92 with a 4.09 xFIP.  His strikeout rate is the lowest it has been in his career while he is also walking more than usual and giving up significantly more home runs.

While his sinker is his primary pitch, his change-up is still his bread and butter.  This year he has the best change-up according the Fangraphs pitch value metric by a wide margin.  His change-up has been the same pitch if not better than it was during his breakout 2016 season.  Hitters are hitting just .150 at the midway point against his change-up with an average exit velocity of 79.5 mph.  In 2016 he was still slightly more dominant with just an .135 opponent average but with a higher average exit velocity of 83.1 mph.  Hitters are making weaker contact against the change-up this year but in 2016 his BABIP was a minuscule .168 leading to the lower opponent average.

Given that Hendricks’ change-up looks to be at status quo, the problem must lie with his sinker.  That is exactly the issue.  This year his opponent batting average against the sinker is .299 compared to .274 in 2016.  His velocity is down a couple miles per hour since 2016 and spin rate that does not differ much.  Hendricks is struggling against right handed hitters this season.  Right handed opponents were hitting just .196 in 2016 compared to .259 this year.  This is also the first year in his career in which he is allowing over a home run per 9 innings.  There is minimal lefty righty difference in change-ups, but there is in his sinker.  Right handed opponents were hitting .252 in 2016 against his sinker and .313 this year while the exit velocities are nearly similar.  Yet again it is his incredibly low BABIP in 2016 that accounted for the difference.  Take a look at his heat maps of his sinker against right handed opponants in 2016 (left) and then again this season (right):

This season he is catching more of the plate which may result in more hits.

Overall, nothing is really too much different regarding his top two pitches from 2016 to this season.  As expected, he would regress from his performance in 2016.  We can observe that much of the difference lies in his low BABIPs from 2016 that could not be repeated.  As for this season, Hendricks appears to be fine.  While improving his sinker command against right handed hitters could help his performance, the loss in velocity in that pitch can be detrimental.  He needs to rely on his command now more than ever.  His change-up is still the best in the league and he may need to rely on that more to generate more outs.  In addition he will need to keep the ball in the yard as that was a big strength of his in the past.  Hendricks has room to improve, but expectations also need to be tempered as to the type of pitcher he is.  He is not the Cy Young caliber pitcher nor is he a bottom dweller pitcher.


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